Giampietro Gobo

The "observation society": A chance for ethnography

  • Abstract

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Keywords: observation, applied ethnography, marketing research, interview, social change

Some scholars have acutely noted that we live in an "interview society", a society in which interviewing has become a fundamental activity, and interviews seem to have become crucial for people to make sense of their lives. The "interview society" is certainly the dominant societal model. However, it is not the only one, for there are other social forms which exist in parallel with it: the "conversation society" and the "observation society". As regards the latter technological advances have made observation technologies more pervasive and flexible. Wherever we go there is always a television camera ready to film our actions (unbeknownst to us). And again camera phones and the current fashion for making video recordings of even the most personal and intimate situations and posting them on the Internet; or logging on to webcams pointed at city streets, monument, landscapes, plants, birds nests, coffee pots, etc. to observe movements, developments and changes. Then there is the trend of webcams worn by people so that they can lead us virtually through their everyday lives. These are not minor eccentricities but websites visited by millions of people around the world. Observing and being observed are two important features of contemporary Western societies. Consequently there is an increasing demand in various sectors of society - from marketing to security, television to the fashion industry - for observation and ethnography. All of which suggests that ours is becoming an observation society.

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